Flight 6 of 14 – First First!

  • British Airways BA0461
  • Madrid to London Heathrow
  • Boeing 777-200 G-VIIN
  • Thursday 8th August 2019

Today was a very warm day in the Madrid area, and as I’ve visited the Spanish capital many times previously this time I decided something different was in order. As I had around 8 hours between flights I booked a trip to Toledo, around half an hour south of Madrid by train, but over an hour from the Airport once you take into account crossing the city.

As I started the return journey of three trains thoughts started to turn to the return journey to London this evening. When I booked this trip the BA system automatically assigned me seat 2K – which is in the First class cabin at the very front!

Boarding the huge 777 back to London

As I mentioned in a previous blog there is definitely a few perks to travelling on larger long haul aircraft on short haul routes. They often give you more space even in Economy and certainly in Business class you will usually get a long haul seat which is usually lie flat these days, which when you compare to a short haul aircraft where you do just get a standard (short haul) seat, although on BA they do leave the middle seat free.

The service in terms of the ‘soft’ product (hey look at me as if I know what I’m talking about!) is of course entirely the same. Of course if you’re travelling on a short haul route where a long haul aircraft does operate then why not book on it just for the extra space and experience. I find they tend to get ‘thrown about’ a bit less in turbulent air too. If you can upgrade your travel into a premium cabin then the difference becomes much greater.

BA runs one of their long haul 777s down to Madrid daily, as it is the main trunk route between the two major IAG group hubs. BA’s hub in Heathrow and Iberia’s hub in Madrid are linked by numerous flights every day, and Iberia reciprocate by flying a long haul Airbus A340 between the two cities every day as well. These flights are primarily designed to help shift huge amounts of cargo that the smaller aircraft just cannot handle, although in my experience they have no problem filling the passenger cabins either.

After visiting Iberia’s very nice (one of the best I’ve visited on the Oneworld network… so far) lounge at Madrid’s satellite T4S terminal I was full of anticipation and a small amount of dread as I walked to the gate. It’s well known in our frequent flyer world that the First cabin is messed about with a lot on the Madrid route in that it is only opened when required by the loadings and when I was able to choose a seat in there – well actually BA auto-allocated me it – upto 3 weeks out when I booked it I had suspicions that it would change. Even up to checking in last night it was still showing 2K despite not being able to select a seat (the system only showed the Club cabin ie rows 10-15), and indeed my boarding pass said 2K too. Would I get (the opposite of) the ‘magic beep’ at the gate?

First Class cabin on BA’s Boeing 777 fleet

I was still somewhat surprised when I was handed my boarding pass – ok, my phone – and passport back and sent on my way down the airbridge. For the second time today I would get to the door and be asked to turn left! Amazing!

My First Class seat 2K

Immediately upon boarding we were welcomed by some great crew members – I think I’ve mentioned it before but it really is the crew that make the experience on BA flights. It’s a shame that their hard work isn’t rewarded as well as it should be but that’s another story altogether.

Even before I sat down I had to take some photos of my – probably – one and only time in First. Ok it may only be on a short flight – and only with Club Europe service – but I was going to enjoy every minute of it! I was immediately pounced upon by one of the crew asking me if I wanted a photo taking in the seat. It’s the little extras like this that makes the experience that little bit more special – if you’re reading this… thank you! I won’t mention their name but suffice to say a thank you will be going in. Another passenger was asking about the A350 and when they would be starting and we had a great four way (I think) chat about the routes they’d be doing and what the new aircraft was like after my trip in the morning.

The First experience – two windows with an internal blind to block out the light, and the buddy seat! What a great idea

The onboard service started very quickly after departure with meals served maybe 20 minutes into the journey from trolley carts, swiftly followed by drinks, rather than each one hand run from the galley. This meant everyone was served much quicker than in the morning. There was even time for a second round of drinks before it was time to clear up for our arrival back in the UK.

I had a lovely grilled cod in a tomato sauce for my main, from the choice of three options. On longer short haul routes (Madrid falls into this!) you are given a card menu and offered a choice of hot or cold meals. It’s usually better to sit nearer the front if you can as they can’t load one of every meal for everyone as there just isn’t the space plus it would be very wasteful! Sometimes supplies do run out and you can’t have your first choice which is not ideal but a necessary evil as I can’t see any other way around it.

Club Europe meal from Madrid to London

It was yet another swift operation – when IT glitches don’t strike BA run a very tight ship considering how congested Heathrow can get. Takeoff from Madrid was at 1829, landing into Heathrow at 1912 local time, with us being on stand a couple of minutes after that, all in all we were back in Heathrow around 20 minutes early. Heathrow themselves also play their part, being a long haul aircraft we parked at the Satellite B terminal, so downstairs for the shuttle train to the main ‘A’ terminal, then back up to get through the border and then rushed outside for the bus back to the hotel. All achieved in under 20 minutes and exactly half an hour after landing I was leaving on the 423 back to the hotel! A great end to an absolutely awesome day.

So how to sum up today? It’s been simply amazing. A hugely premium experience with the new A350 Club suite this morning, and returning in First this evening. The day trip to Toledo was a great choice and really easy to do. Couldn’t really ask for more!

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